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Jaya Appaswamy

MUCH MALIGNED MONSTERS
By Partha Mitter
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977, Rs. 170.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 6 May/June 1979

Partha Mitter has written a care­fully documented study of the history of European reactions to Indian art. Indian sculpture, architecture and even painting seem to have presented insuperable difficulties to the westerner in the past and even today he has still ‘to find a way to appreciate the values of Indian art in its own context and in its own right.’ Proceeding chronologically the author has cited evidence from the earliest accounts which show the highly distorted view of things Asiatic that obtained and which were based more on fantasy than on reality. There appears to have been, from the beginning, a tendency to imagine rather than to confront, a fondness for stereotypes rather than open-minded study. According to Mitter this ten­dency to go by what has already been said or heard or interpreted continued to fog the western mind almost to the pre­sent. Perhaps the time is now ripe to look at these works of art straight and free from prejudice and disentangled from the vast mass of information and explanation that surrounds them. Among other problems that caused difficulties in the appreciation of Indian art some seem to appear and reappear. One is the necessity for comparisons with the classical Greek and the art of the ancient world, an exercise which mostly led to further misunderstanding and a choice of sides. Another obsession was attempting to make art fit theories, ins­tead of theories arising from a study of works of art. Some quite important thin­kers have shown this weakness and either blamed art for what it never aimed to be or interpreted it in terms of their own idiosyncracies. The author states in the preface that his book has grown out of a doctoral thesis, which perhaps explains its exhaustive treatment. The reader is obliged to follow all the descriptions, arguments and theo­ries of the many travellers, archaeologists, philosophers and art historians who have left their manifold and sometimes confusing views. Perhaps his intention is that the mistakes of the past should help us to look at works of art from alien cultures in a new way. Partha Mitter's book is amply illustrated with old western drawings of Indian subjects, both real and imaginary. He also reproduces photographs of some of the originals on which the drawings are based which help even the uninitiated to see the difference and that there was ...


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